Agile transformation – Inspiration, Application, Practice.

If you're adopting lean, you need to understand this flow: Inspiration, Application, Practice. Share on X

It has another, more famous name that those who have worked for enterprises will recognize, the hype cycle.

The Lean Hype Cycle

Made famous by Gartner, the hype cycle is often used to describe the adoption cycle of new technologies, but it works for adopting lean as well and for agile transformation.

  • The Technology Trigger: “Look, there’s a new best seller called the Lean Startup by someone called Eric Rice”
  • The Peak of Inflated Expectations: “Eric just shook my hand! My startup will surely succeed!”
  • The Trough of Disillusionment: “I made my Business Model Canvas, why aren’t I successful?”
  • The Slope of Enlightenment: “Perhaps I should iterate on this Business Model Canvas.”
  • The Plateau of Productivity: “Perhaps it’s not the Business Model Canvas that matters, maybe it’s the focus on proving out my risky assumptions and continually improving my own methodology to do so!”

It’s the same pattern over and over within individuals, small companies, and up to the eco-system level (enterprises, cities, small countries.) Everyone goes through it to some degree, with some adjustment of the slope of the curves. No one is exempt.

I like to simplify this into a simple three step process: Inspiration, Application, Practice.

(Why? Because everyone keeps asking me for a step by step process for agile transformation. Go figure, people like things that come in three steps. Build-Measure-Learn anyone?)

The Lean Hype Cycle - Inspiration, Application, Practice


The Lean Hype Cycle - InspirationStep one is where you believe that Eric Ries is a magical creature with pockets full of silicon valley pixie dust which cause hockey stick growth curves on contact with any startup.

Fortunately for those that don’t get to meet him in person, when Eric personally transcribes every single copy of The Lean Startup by hand, some of the magic pixie dust accidentally gets sprinkled into each copy. If you hold the book above your head and shake it, enough of the magic might fall on your to make you successful.

Please note that it is not actually important to read the book for the magic to rub off on you. All you need to do is repeat the mantra, “Build…Measure…Learn”, while clicking your pen against your teeth three times and pulling the drawstrings of your hoodie shut and blindly walking forward until you’re successful.

Despite the obvious ridiculousness of this notion, it’s not a coincidence that Lean Startup evangelists get paid a premium if they come from Silicon Valley and have some of that aura of wisdom about them. That’s reality.

Face it. We’re kind of a dumb species in certain areas.

We can harness the power of quantum mechanics and simultaneously invent planking. And planking must be amazing because everyone is doing it so we’d better do it too.

Much as we may not like it, the Inspiration phase is important. We have to believe that something might work in order to get to the part where it actually does work. There’s no skipping this phase.

If you (or your team) can’t suspend your disbelief for a moment and, foolishly, believe that there is something special here, why bother trying it at all?

You may think you can skip this or you may have just hired a consultant who assures you that your enterprise of 40,000 people will be intrapreneurs in no time….good luck with that. It’s a great view of agile transformation from the Peak of Inflated Expectations.


The Lean Hype Cycle - ApplicationStep two is Application. That’s where you (and your team) go to a workshop. Or maybe you fill out the Business Model Canvas (or the Lean Canvas, hey…it’s got the word lean in it.) Perhaps you run a smoke test. Perhaps you talk to customers.

That’s all great. You can’t skip that either. And besides…it’s easy!

Being lean is easy...until it's not. Share on X

Here’s what happens:

  • The workshop was amazing but three weeks later it’s business as normal. There’s too much stuff to do to run experiments….we need to print business cards!
  • The Business Model Canvas was amazing! Let’s upload it into google docs so we can all have access when we remotely work from home and make sure to promptly forget it exists.
  • We ran a smoke test and discovered that if we put pictures of good looking girls on our landing page then we have a 23% bump in conversion! I’m sure [email protected] is going to love our B2B eCommerce software!
  • We talked to our customers and remarkably they all agreed with my mom. This product is going to be amazing and they said that all their friends would surely buy it if we just build a few more features!

Turns out that your engineer really just needs to code, your business person is really busy pitching investors, and your designer will figure out whether to use a 5px rounded corner or 4px rounded corner any day now.

(If you’re inside a larger company this is also the point where the CEO asks to see the results of your $50,000 lean startup workshop.)

You’ve come to…

The Wall

The Lean Hype Cycle - The Wall

See the gray thing before the plateau of productivity? That’s the wall. At some point, you’ll hit the wall. You think to yourself, “I will break it or it will break me.”

Step 2.5 of adopting Lean Startup: Bang head against wall until the wall breaks or your head does. Share on X

Maybe you’re out of runway. Maybe you’re spending too much time on trying to create the perfect experiment that you have no velocity. Maybe you’re just out of patience or your boss ran out of patience and there’s a suspicious meeting going on in HR.

Most likely your measure of success is still product progress and not learning. So you’re understandably disappointed when your product doesn’t succeed after two iterations. It happens.

Unfortunately, walls and heads don’t mix very well and your head makes for a poor battering ram.

You have a choice. You can keep banging away, or you can stop and reflect. You can try to use your head for what it was designed.

  • Did we apply the lessons from the workshop?
  • Did we iterate on our Business Model Canvas for agile transformation?
  • Does our landing page represent our value proposition?
  • Did we ask leading questions?
Retrospectives are not optional to adopting Lean Startup. Share on X


agile transformation, The Lean Hype Cycle - PracticeSo you reflect and you start thinking about how to get past the wall. Banging your head isn’t working. Maybe let’s try climbing.

It’s a tall wall. It’ll be hard, but let’s just see if we can get a handhold. Maybe we can find a toe hold.

Let’s just see if we can get a little bit off the ground.

Let’s stop talking to the customers and start listening to them instead. Let’s iterate on the Business Model Canvas of agile transformation. Let’s try using the Lean Canvas instead and see which works better for us.

With each small attempt to learn a skill or improve your lean startup process, you climb an inch higher.

A foot higher.

Ten feet.

Eventually, you realize it’s not a wall. If you tilt your head at just the right angle, that wall looks suspiciously like a vertical road.

…and so you stand up.

Tentatively at first… until you realize that this whole thing is just a ridiculous metaphor and gravity isn’t really an issue and just stand up.

Lean startup simply doesn't work...until it does. Share on X

You might be reading this blog because you think there’s some special lean startup secret. If there is, no one has filled me in.

If there is a special way to skip through inspiration and application to jump to practice. I just don’t know it. Go ask Eric…actually do it…this should be entertaining:

Hey @ericries, what's the special secret to lean startup? #leansecret Share on X

The best I can hope to do as a lean coach is to smooth the curves. I can try to calm down the hype and I can give you a pep talk when you’re in the trenches. I can try to give you a helmet until you decide to stop banging your head against the wall. I can’t make you lean.

Lean startup about continual improvement. It’s not about quick fixes, being cheap, or a lack of vision. It’s a process of getting better each time. It’s the process of Practice.

Lean Startup is not a binary operation. You’re never lean. You’re never not lean.

You’re either in the process of constantly improving or you’re not. Whether it’s for your business or your life, you’ll eventually make a choice.

Do you want to grow? Or let the world grow and dwarf you? Share on X

You can make that choice consciously or not. But you make that choice every day of your life.

If you're adopting lean, you need to understand this flow: Inspiration, Application, Practice. Share on X

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